Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken: Film Analysis Essay

The film I have chosen to analyse Angelina Jolie’s biopic film, Unbroken which was released late 2014. The film begins before World War II started in 1936 and finishes in the year 1945 when the war ended. During the war, it was the norm for militants and even civilians to be captured and taken to prison camps to be tortured for information or used as slave labour and tortured because they were the enemy. The main protagonist, Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) is a young Olympic runner hopeful whose life changed dramatically at 25 when he went from athlete to being a soldier fighting for his country in the war.

When Zamperini’s plane crashed he is captured by the Japanese army and lived in a number of prison camps until the end of the war. The scene analysed is set in Naoetsu, Prisoner of War camp in northern Japan where Zamperini was tortured and forced into labour until the end of the war in 1945. The scene uses micro features to represent Zamperini as a very strong individual who refuses to give up and finds ways to triumph even when faced with extreme adversity.

The two micro features I have chosen to analyse are mise-enscene and cinematography because I believe that they create important representations of the protagonist. The specific scene Thave chosen consists of ‘slave’, Zamperini being ordered to complete almost impossible tasks that a regular man would fail to accomplish. Zamperini falls and sprains his ankle and is unable to work, but the Japanese Commanding Officer (CO) (Miyavi) orders him to lift a massive slab of wood and demands a guard to shoot Zamperini if he drops it.

Zamperini successfully lifts and holds the wood for a very long time. After a while, when he is expected to be at his weakest, he lifts the block above his head, showing he will never give up; angering the leader and leading to a brutal beating. The chosen sequence uses high key lighting, which is less typical for this kind of sequence as these types of scenes usually use low key lighting to build tension and create a fear of the unknown because they are more brutal and horrific scenes.

The fact that this shot uses high key lighting means that the director, Jolie wants to reinforce the realism of the narrative and how much pain Zamperini is in at certain points, which makes viewers sympathize with Zamperini. This close up shot of the main character Zamperini emphasises his pain and exhaustion. It shows every detail in his face to emphasise his emotions, how much pain is in his eyes and how weak he feels. You can tell from the expression within his face that he is drained but never willing to give up.

This is anchored by the mud and bruises, which exaggerates the pain he has been through and how long he has been in the prison camp as he has not been able to wash. It also connotes the brutal conditions of the prison camp which are emphasised by the high key lighting. The direction of the sunlight from the top right corner connotes that the slaves are being worked in the heat of the day, when conditions are at their harshest and most cruel. The use of a close-up also forces the audience to be close to the protagonist, creating intimacy and aligning the audience with him.

The close up of the protagonist also represents the emotion he is giving off to the audience. The high key lighting in this clip emphasises all the detail in his face and body to show the audience how tattered he has become. Zamperini is represented as triumphing over adversity through the cinematography in the sequence. He has lifted the wood above his head to show the power he really has physically as well as mentally. This part of the scene is just before the Proppian villain attacks Zamperini.

For example the low shot positions Zamperini as strong and powerful, and because it is shot from the direction of the antagonist, it connotes the CO as the ‘smaller’ man. The low shot also creates the typical representation of the Proppian villain being the weaker character compared to the protagonist. The high key lighting emphasises the physicality and costume; the bruises and dirt are anchored by his under-nourished body to signify the pain and horror he has been through. In this triumphant shot the protagonist is represented as powerful and strong. This powerful moment demonstrates that Zamperini will never give up.

The protagonist is framed to the left and a deep shot is used to outline the protagonist but draw focus to the Japanese CO running at him at the same time. This framing enables the audience to see the facial expression on the CO’s face next to the protagonist’s powerful stance, emphasising the contrast between the two characters. It also allows the audience to see the reaction of the people in the background which is important because it shows how surprised they are as they have all stopped doing their work as it is not normal for someone to stand against a leader.

Throughout the film the characters are represented as binary opposites. Interestingly, the framing actually positions the protagonist above the antagonist as the arms of Zamperini are shown above the CO’s head, representing him as the more powerful character. This signified the triumph Zamperini feels in this specific moment compared to the times when he forced into a submissive position. This shot connotes that whatever the Co does, Zamperini will always be a bigger person, mentally and physically, as in this shot his arms, which create a triumphant stance.

This shot specifically shows the great contrast between the two characters creating binary opposites. It shows the back of the protagonist and how bruised, muddy and tattered it is compared to the clean and non-beaten man in front of him; two great comparisons that highlight the differences between the characters. Within this scene in Unbroken, high key lighting is used to signify the damage done to Zamperini as he is only able to just about see the outline of the Proppian villain that is the Japanese CO. The low angle Point of View looking up at the antagonist connotes the dominance of this character over Zamperini.

The high key lighting created by the bright sun in the centre of the shot; effectively blinds the protagonist, making him more vulnerable and emphasising the harsh conditions of the camp. When the antagonist then steps into the shot, the placement of the sun creates a silhouette meaning the antagonist’s face cannot be seen, thereby dehumanising him and creating a fear of the unknown for the viewers. The silhouette also represents Zamperini’s last sight of the CO as the blurriness connotes the Proppian Hero’s last thoughts; he is unable to think clearly and is dazed before he loses consciousness.

The Japanese Co has beaten ti he protagonist to the ground and continues to beat him there. The point of view shot is anchored the sun’s glare to position the audience as Zamperini; like him they can’t visualise everything properly and are forced into a submissive role. It is not typical to see this kind of sequence in high key lighting as these types of scenes would usually be shown in low key lighting to build tension and create a fear of the unknown during more brutal and horrific scenes.

The fact that this shot uses high key lighting means that director, Jolie, wants to reinforce realism of the narrative and how much pain Zamperini is in at certain oints, which makes the viewers sympathise with Zamperini. The effect created by this sequence is powerful as the audience watch Zamperini go from epic triumph to harsh brutality. The audience witness the pain Zamperini endures, something made more emotive by the knowledge that this is a true story. The meanings negotiated with the audience through cinematography and mise-en-scene within the extract represents the desperation of the Prisoners of War, the brutality of the Prisoner Camps during the Second World War and, importantly, Zamperini’s unerring and inspirational strength.